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NUS’ Ben Leong’s rebuts Tan Meng Wah’s claims that SG gov’t mishandled Covid-19 crisis

Dr Leong wrote that even if the foreign workers had been given living conditions that would have allowed for social distancing, the fact that the workers eat and work together would still have driven the numbers up




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Singapore—On Friday, Dr Tan Meng Wah, formerly from the Institute of Policy Studies, wrote a post on Facebook about how the 4G leaders mishandled the Covid-19 crisis from the beginning, which was then widely shared.

Dr Tan, who on the policy team of , wrote that political leaders rather than medical experts had been appointed to lead the task force assigned to combat the myriad issues stemming from the outbreak, as a “political platform for the 4G leaders to win the trust of Singaporeans.”

Dr Tan’s views had its share of supporters and detractors, with one prominent rebuttal coming from Dr Ben Leong, an Associate Professor of Computer Science at the National University of Singapore.

In a note entitled “Teaching Moments from Fighting COVID19” and posted on Sunday (May 24), Dr Leong wrote that he had been ‘horrified’ to see one of his students had shared Dr Tan’s note and praised it as a ‘good read,’ because, in his opinion, it was ‘drivel.’

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And while he wrote his rebuttal primarily as an object lesson for his students, it has also been widely read and shared on Facebook.

Dr Leong stated that he is “tangentially involved in the nation’s COVI-19 efforts” as SAF has asked him to head a team that supports MOH’s contact tracing processes, lest he be accused of “being some kind of PAP mole sent by the COVID Taskforce to do PR.”

Posted by Ben Leong on Saturday, May 23, 2020

In defense of SG’s Covid-19 measures

Dr Leong wrote that at the beginning of the outbreak authorities in Singapore immediately activated its SOP for SARS, in a manner he characterized as “flawless.”

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“Clearly, if COVID19 were SARS, COVID19 would have been wiped out many times over.

To be fair, our initial execution was flawless. We were proclaimed the world’s . So far, so good.”

But when it came to the question of whether or not the public should wear masks, Dr Leong wrote that while the Government had been wrong to say that masks should not have been required, the question of whether it would have been feasible to provide masks for everyone remained.

“People don’t know this *that* time, but we later know because of Madam Ho, what happened at the same time was that while ST had a N95 factory line and were ready to ship masks back to Singapore, Taiwan had banned us from exporting the masks back to Singapore? Do we announce this to the public so that we can all be pissed at Taiwan together? No cannot. Must diam diam. We announce this, we will create panic*.”

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The country had not stockpiled “5 million x 365 days worth of masks” as there had been no way of knowing this would be necessary. And to have done so would have been expensive.

Furthermore, as Singapore had “activated the world’s most efficient contact tracing system” in the first two months of the outbreak, finding those infected and isolating those who had been in contact with them, there was no reason to believe that masks would be necessary. Instead, the country’s limited supply back then needed to be saved for the frontline health workers.

“In other words, not wearing masks was the correct and most logical choice at that point. What other choice do people think we have? All wear masks, masks come from where? Dr Tan refers to this situation as a political consideration. Not enough masks is not enough masks simi sai political situation? Dr Tan and his 4 can supply ah? 

Basically, on the mask wearing issue, the Government did get the answer right (it was judged both impractical and of not urgent need), but got the working wrong, so kenna marked wrong.”

Dr Leong also pointed out Singapore’s low rate of 0.075 percent, in comparison to the United States’ six percent. “That’s a hundred times higher than Singapore(!).”

He then went on to tackle the issue of the coronavirus outbreak in foreign workers’ dormitories, which he wrote he was “surprised that Dr Tan did not say anything about.”

While workers’ rights activists and NGOs have pushed for improving conditions in the dormitories, and some citizens have held the Government completely at fault in the matter, Dr Leong wrote that even if the foreign workers had been given living conditions that would have allowed for social distancing, the fact that the workers eat and work together would still have driven the numbers of infections up. “Even workers in full PPE can still catch it,” he wrote.

“My point: all these claims that acceding to the earlier demands of these NGOs and activists would have allowed us to avoid the current foreigner (sic) worker COVID situation is hogwash. Plain and simple.”

People prefer this narrative because “our brains are lazy” and “we want easy solutions.” What he holds the Government responsible for is for not offering “any reason for how and why the situation imploded in the dorm. Given the lack of an alternative, people just accept what is offered, hook, line and sinker.” He added that it is “despicable” that certain ones use this type of reasoning to advance their cause.

Dr Leong hypothesized that “the real root cause for the foreign dorm infections was the humongous number of asymptomatic cases,” and because of limited testing capabilities, this could not be detected earlier.

At the end of his note, he wrote “There are situations where you know that sh*t is going to hit the fan and yet all you can do is to feel sorry for yourself while it happens in slomo. (sic) COVID19 is one such moment for Singapore. In times like this, we suck it up and wait to up after the mess is over.” —/TISG

Read related: 4G leaders mishandled Covid-19 crisis from the beginning: PSP’s Tan Meng Wah

4G leaders mishandled Covid-19 crisis from the beginning: PSP’s Tan Meng Wah

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